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Ex-Guatemalan soldier gets 5,160 years’ prison for civil war massacre

Former Guatemalan soldier Santos Lopez has been convicted for the massacre of 201 peasants during the civil war © AFP/File / JOHAN ORDONEZ

Guatemala City, Guatemala, Nov 22 – A Guatemalan court on Wednesday sentenced a former soldier to 5,160 years in prison for the massacre of 201 peasants during one of the worst atrocities of the Central American nation’s civil war.

The court found Santos Lopez “responsible as author” of 171 of the killings and sentenced him to 30 years for each, or 5,130 years in total.

He received an additional 30 years linked to the killing of a surviving child, but the sentences are symbolic because Guatemala’s maximum prison term is 50 years.

Lopez was a member of a US-trained counterinsurgency force called Kaibil. He was arrested in the United States and deported in 2016.

According to the investigation, Lopez belonged to a patrol that committed the massacre in December 1982 in Dos Erres, on the border with Mexico. The soldiers were trying to recover about 20 rifles stolen by guerrillas during an earlier ambush which left 19 soldiers dead.

The story of Dos Erres was told in the 2017 documentary “Finding Oscar,” executive-produced by Steven Spielberg, which recounts the search for another boy whose life was spared and who was then raised by one of the soldiers.

A handful of other “Kaibiles” have been convicted, each receiving a sentence of more than 6,000 years in prison.

Three others accused in the slaughter were jailed in the US for immigration violations. Several others are believed to reside in the United States.

The massacre occurred during the rule of dictator Efrain Rios Montt, who himself was indicted on charges of genocide and died last April.

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Rios Montt allegedly ordered the murders of 1,771 indigenous Ixil-Maya people during his short reign in 1982-83, which came at the height of the 36-year civil war.

According to the UN, about 200,000 people died or were made to disappear during Guatemala’s war, which ended in 1996.

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